I’ve had some pretty unique experiences traveling but today has to take the cake. After spending the past week in Toronto for events and meetings it was time to travel back down to Utah for a few days in the mountains. Last Wednesday, I presented in Orangeville, Ontario. Orangeville is a small town north of Toronto. I was brought to the community to share my story. I was encouraged to share the joy and the struggle with the audience made up of all ages, all walks of life.
To my relief, there was a packed house. Relief because the event was free (donation encouraged). Whenever I do an event that I am the main draw I get pretty nervous. Nervous because I often wonder if people would be interested in hearing the narrative I share.
But this night was special. The event’s purpose was to announce a new community initiative funded by the local mental health organization and the government via a grant. It’s called ‘Allies for Kids’ Mental Health’ and the hopes were that I’d draw a diverse crowd in to listen to my stories of not only twenty two years of life spent as an athlete, but about the depression I went through as well. It’s a well documented fact that I was a rotten kid with a lot of problems. Sharing where I come from and what inspired change in me with parents and kids alike I always hopes humanizes me. If I can show that anything is possible by sharing the tough times I had and the transformation I made because I was inspired, I think I can show by what I’ve done that this potential is within all of us.
The key is finding something to channel your passions into that has meaning and value. And I am not talking about Olympic medals, fame, money or anything like that. I am talking connecting to others and making a difference to the people who need a helping hand.
Enough about me. After presenting there was plenty of time to meet the array of folks from Dufferin County. I feel like an honorary citizen of Orangeville after so many parents, teachers, coaches and youth shared their stories with me. It meant the world to know we connected. I left town feeling full of love after this wonderful evening.
And now, today, as I fly to Denver on an Air Canada flight, I found myself waiting in line to get on board. There stood before me a whole crew of mainly women who had some of the best energy in the world. They were like kids going on a school trip and the excitement was contagious.
I noticed the orange and thought they might be Dutch until I stood closer and heard distinct Canadian accents. I read the jacket of the woman in front of me that said ‘Orangeville Chorus’. Being anything but shy myself, I asked the nice lady if she was from Orangeville, Ontario.
‘Yes! We’re a chorus and we’re heading down to Denver for a competition’.
I mentioned that I was in their town only a few days prior to do a presentation and she asked ‘are you Clara Hughes, the Olympian?’.
I shared with her my story of the warmth of the community and how much I loved everyone there. How some had shared stories of tough times but how we all found some hope in the evening and the magic of it all.
‘Well, I may have to come and get you so we can sing you a song during the flight.’
This brings me to the unique experience while traveling. During the flight I ventured to say hello to this wonderful group of singers. The crew of them occupied much of the last half of the plane. After tuning their pipes to an A minor chord (or something like that), they sang a beautiful song to me called ‘You Rise Me Up’.
What did I do? I started to cry. They shared their gift of song and it touched my heart. I think they touched the hearts of all the passengers. The flight attendants stopped what they were doing to listen. Then one asked for another song, and we were treated once again.
Going back to my seat, one of the flight attendants stopped me and said ‘well I’ve never heard something like that on a flight before…that was simply wonderful…’
Wonderful it was. What a gift.